“Now it’s getting to crunch time and we need to be throwing men forward. On Saturday we simply must start with 2 up front as far as I’m concerned. Whether that’s Che, Kyle McFarlane or Isaac on crutches, I don’t care at this point!”
Well, Brentford was a shocker! I was quietly confident that we’d get a result and we did start the game looking like we had a chance of gaining at least a point. Then the wheels fell off and it was Hull all over again. Once more Blues buckled under pressure and once more questions were raised over Cotterill’s managerial capabilities. There are numerous things that need to change at the club, in this article I’ve listed the most critical changes we need to make in order to get back on the right track. Before anyone says it (someone still will!) No, sacking Cotterill is not on this list! The things listed below are realistic changes and not just moans and groans that will fall on deaf ears. So read on fair readers, and don’t forget to let us know if there’s any other more pressing, realistic, short term issues to be addressed…
1. Stop Forcing Stockdale To Be A Sweeper Keeper
Since the dawn of the Zola era, we have become a team that enjoys a cheeky pass back to the keeper. That’s all well and good when the situation calls for it, but it’s become a key part of our game and I’ve no idea why! Stockdale is competent with the ball at his feet, but he’s not Manuel Neuer. Why are we putting him under so much pressure?
In addition to this, we have two old fashioned centre backs in Roberts and Dean. They are there to tackle, mark up and clear the ball; that’s their bread and butter. What they’re not used to doing is passing it around between each other instead of getting the ball forward. I’m convinced this is an enforced style of play and not a desirable one for any of the guys at the back. Evidence of this comes in the shape of Brentford’s first goal where we were caught trying to juggle it around instead of putting the ball into orbit.
We need to appreciate who we are and what we have in our dressing room. We have players like Gardner and Davis who like to spread the ball around from deep in midfield, let them do their jobs and allow the defence to defend.
2. The Best Defence Is A Good Offense
We’ve tried one up front and it’s gotten us nowhere. Admittedly things picked up when that ‘one’ was Big Sam, but we’re still the lowest scorers in the league and this goal drought needs to end. You can’t knock Sam’s effort and determination but quite frankly we’re expecting too much of him. Although we’ve had a smattering of success from the long ball hoofing tactic, opposition defences know it’s coming and just crowd Gallagher who very rarely has support with him. If we really are so devoid of a midfield maestro that we must resort to route one football, then Sammy G needs help.
At the start of the season, Che Adams was tipped to be our biggest future prospect with clubs like Derby reportedly sniffing around him. However, since his injury the only impressions he’s made are on the bench with his backside! Gallagher is in desperate need of a strike partner and since Vassell (a REAL future prospect in my opinion) is out, then who better than Che to fulfil the role?
We’ve tried crowding the defence, it hasn’t worked. We’ve tried crowding the midfield, it worked a little over Christmas. Now it’s getting to crunch time and we need to be throwing men forward. On Saturday we simply must start with 2 up front as far as I’m concerned. Whether that’s Che, Kyle McFarlane or Isaac on crutches, I don’t care at this point!
3. Boga and N’Doye Need To Be Dropped
It almost hurts my fingers just to type this since he clearly loves the club and is the most naturally skilful player we have, but we need to drop Jezza. Boga can skip round the opposition like they’re not even there and has a bag full of tricks but there is absolutely zero end product. The enigma to it all is that we’ve seen what he can do from long range when he has a go and we’ve seen his crosses find their man when he wants them to, but for some unknown reason he insists on walking the ball across the face of the penalty area rather than making the critical final pass/shot. As important as skills and flair are to the game, vision and anticipation are equally vital. As much as I love Jezza B, he’s become too much of a liability. It’s great that he can get the ball up to a dangerous position with ease, but what good is that when nothing ever comes of it. He needs to be utilised as a pacey, pain in the arse substitute instead of in the starting 11.
As for N’Doye; this is perhaps the biggest head scratcher for Blues fans at the moment. We can all see that he’s a handful in midfield, and we have all witnessed him breaking up opposition attacks. We’ve seen him win the ball in the air and seen him pick fights with Villa defenders.
However, we can also see that he’s got worse control of the ball than my goldfish. We’ve witnessed him break up our own attacks, seen him lose the ball at his feet and seen the visible frustration from his own team mates as he gives the ball away time after time. He suffers from the same illness as Boga; Cantlookupwontlookupitis. He too is a liability that Cotterill insists on picking in the starting 11. I can only assume that Steve likes having a menace in the middle but right now we need playmakers with agility and vision, not a bull in a China club.
4. Get Charlie Lakin Involved
So after suggesting Boga be sat down, who do I think should take his place? That man is an 18 year old from Solihull who showed some real promise in his run out against Huddersfield. Charlie Lakin has recently been awarded a well deserved full time contract and has yet to be seen in a league match. However, anyone that was present at the Huddersfield game will lay testament to the fact that he has the air of a playmaker about him. Lakin replaced Lowe in his FA Cup appearance and is suited to the left wing. Not only did he pick out some impressive cross pitch passes against a Premier League team, he also has the hunger and fire lit under him by his first full time contract. We have a local boy with a local heart and a point to prove. The kid can play and the kid WILL play if given the chance. The only downside to Charlie’s inclusion would be that we’d be fielding Brammall and Lakin, two inexperienced Championship player, on the same side, making them likely targets of Barnsley attacks.
I would happily see Lakin on the left and Maghoma on the right feeding Che and Big Sam in a 4-4-2 formation with Gardner and Lowe in the middle, ahead of the usual back 4.
5. Booing & Jeering Helps Nobody
Everyone’s frustrated, I get that. Everyone has a target to blame and a figurehead to hate, I totally understand that. I ask you though, what good does it do to boo Cotterill as he walks out? I know there are fans that wouldn’t dream of hurling abuse before we’ve even kicked off, but then I also know for a fact that there are many that will. As far as Saturday goes, Steve is in charge. Whatever is shouted before the game will not change that fact, TTA will not suddenly announce over the Tannoy that he’s been replaced by whichever manager you have convinced yourself will be the saviour of the city.
I’m not for one second telling anyone how to express their anger or vent their frustrations, but I reiterate, what good will it do pre kick off? I’ve seen talk on Twitter of pre-match protests and fans buying tickets in the Paddock just to throw insults. Though I assume these are a little tongue in cheek, I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen.
Something clicked over Christmas. I’ve heard the arguments of “no, Sunderland are just crap” and “Wednesday were useless on the night”, but I disagree. We were a different team over that period. I don’t know what changed, but something sparked, and we were firing. I’m not just talking about results and performances, I’m talking about attitudes. The guys were walking onto the pitch with pride and working their socks off. David Davis was the Digga of old and Craig Gardner started to actually find the box with his crosses. SOMETHING clicked, and we need that to click again.
I say, let’s give the guys the benefit of the doubt on Saturday. 5 – 0 was a bitter pill to swallow, but regardless of what some fans think, I bet it went down just as hard for the lads. I’m sure they’ve been working hard on the training ground to make sure we don’t have a repeat at home on Saturday. If it all starts to go pear shaped again, then fine, shout away after the full-time whistle. But let’s see which team turns up against Barnsley first. Will it be the Birmingham of the last 2 weeks or the Xmas period Blues?
By Mark Watson